Unmanned aircraft can make up for reduced fighter squadron capacity, Air Force official says

AFA NEWS: Loyal Wingman drones could compensate for declining fighter squadron capacity

NATIONAL PORT, Maryland — With its fighter squadron’s capacity dwindling since Desert Storm, the Air Force must advance the development of unmanned aircraft capable of filling the void, the Air Force chief said. Combat Command on September 21.

In order to accomplish its missions both at home and abroad, the Air Force must have at least 60 fighter squadrons of multipurpose aircraft, such as the Joint Strike Fighter F- 35 or the F-16 Falcon. However, the service currently has only a total of 48 active fighter squadrons, as well as nine squadrons of A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft, creating “an acute problem” for the Air Force, said Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command.

“With 48 fighter squadrons working to execute the 60 fighter squadron requirement…we’re taking a hit in…readiness, a hit in modernization and a hit in our response to crisis demands,” Kelly said during of a speech to the Air Force. Air, Space and Cyber ​​Association Annual Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. The crisis they are responding to is often a crisis of insufficient hunting capacity, he added.

Kelly stressed the need for a more robust fighter capability given China’s rapid military modernization, as well as Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. . The simultaneous decline of American combat air power gave competitors “a unique opportunity to increase confrontation and secure gains with minimal risk,” he said.

As part of the solution to increase capability and deter adversaries, the Air Force must accelerate research and development of the collaborative combat aircraft, Kelly said.

The concept – also known as the loyal wingman – would see autonomous unmanned jets fly in tandem with manned fighters to provide additional support. The Air Force intends to deploy collaborative combat aircraft with its upcoming sixth-generation fighter initiative known as Next Generation Air Dominance, or NGAD.

The need for a collaborative combat aircraft grew out of Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall’s Seven Operational Imperatives, said Andrew Hunter, Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, during a panel discussion with journalists on September 20. The imperatives are designed to guide efforts to modernize the service for future conflicts.

“What we’re looking for are aircraft that can accomplish this mission,” Hunter said. “It’s a mission to operate in denied airspace and ensure that we are able to establish freedom of action…for US forces.”

The service is looking for autonomous aircraft that are affordable and expendable during missions, he added.

Although there is no list of requirements for collaborative fighter jets yet, Kelly said he believes the Air Force can begin development through a series of iterative tests performed with fighters who can provide feedback to the service.

“We need to start doing and iterating and testing some of this and move away from PowerPoint slides,” he said during a panel discussion with reporters Sept. 21.

These tests would help inform requirements and refine the Air Force’s vision for systems, such as how many unmanned aircraft will fly with combat aircraft and what exact role they will play, he said. declared. Concepts called for loyal wing drones to carry weapons, sensors or serve as decoys

“I think we can iterate pretty quickly,” Kelly said. But if the service gets caught up in the demands and starts “running to the finish line and we find out we’re wrong, we’ll turn around and go back to the start,” he added.

Topics: Air Force News